Whether you’re new to the whole pressure cooker trend or you’re an experienced Instant Pot fan, you are at risk of seeing the dreaded Burn message.
I also know that the burn message on Instant Pot will never show up when everything is nice and calm. Every single time I saw it, I either had important guests to feed or the kids where in hungry mode. But let’s face it, there is no good time for your fancy high-tech pressure cooker to throw an error message!
Nevertheless, it may happen and it’s important to know what to do when it does.
For this, I put together a “survival guide” for the unlucky Instant Pot users who get the message. I will walk you through the process and explain why it shows up. But first, it’s important to keep your calm and understand that even the most advanced devices will throw an error from time to time. It happens and we must deal with it.
Table of Contents
What Does it Mean?
Will it burn my food?
Did the mechanism burn inside the pot? Is there a short circuit?
Will it burn my house down?
Why does everything bad happen to me?
These are only a few of the questions that usually go through one’s mind when the display of an Instant Pot reads “burn,” “OvHt” or “Food Burn”.
This is only an error message (part of the Instant Pot basic safety mechanisms) that’s displayed when the overheat protection is triggered. It usually pops up when the safety mechanisms inside consider the pot has gotten too hot (over 140°C / 284°F) and there is a risk of your food burning at the bottom of the inner pot.
As a result, the heating process is suspended and the Burn message is displayed to notify you that something is not going according to plan. So, unless you see any other signs of trouble (smoke coming from the pot or a strange smell), this message is nothing else but a warning.
Why Does Instant Pot Say Burn?
So, now that you know it’s nothing too serious, let us explore the Why of this situation.
Usually, this error message is displayed when you’ve done something that doesn’t sit well with the pot and its many sensors and safety systems. That’s why beginners are more likely to get this message.
Here are some actions that may trigger the Burn message:
1. You didn't add enough water
As I’ve specified time and time again, the Instant Pot doesn’t work without liquid in the inner pot. It needs at least 1 cup of liquid (unless specified otherwise) to build pressure based on steam.
Keep in mind that size does matter! In this case, an 8qt pot will need more starter liquid than a 6qt.
Another factor that influences the way the IP reacts is the thickness of the liquid. While the specifications mention that the liquid doesn’t need to be plain water, it’s important to know that it needs to be thin so it can get to a boil in the estimated time.
Even more, the thin liquid needs to be at the bottom of the inner pot, so the food doesn’t burn. If you mix thick sauces such as tomato paste or tomato sauce (like we have for chili), they will settle at the bottom of the pot and may trigger the error. As such, if you work with thick sauces, it’s best to add them after the pressure cooking step.
You should also avoid cooking milk or heavy cream directly in the inner pot. These liquids create a film on the wall of the container and that film scorches easily. You can still make recipes that involve creamy sauces by employing the pot-in-pot method.
What's the minimum amount of water for Instant Pot?
For 3-quart Instant Pot - 1 cup of water or other liquid.
For 6-quart Instant Pot - 1 cup of water or other liquid.
For 8-quart Instant Pot - 2 cups of water or other liquid.
2. You didn't move the steam valve handle to sealing position.
Now, if you forget to set the steam valve to Sealing while pressure cooking, the steam will be released and pressure won’t build up in the estimated time. Meanwhile, the pot will continue to heat while the liquid gets lower (due to evaporation and steam release). As a result, the inner pot may get too hot, which will trigger the error message.
So make sure the steam valve handle is on "sealing" and not on "venting".
3. You Overfill the Instant Pot
If you add to much liquid, you may get the burn message.
If you add too much food, you may get the burn message.
I really like this Instant Pot Jasmine rice recipe, since it's easy and works every time. But after a while I wanted to diversify, so I added bell pepper. And... it was great!
So next time I added bell pepper and broccoli. And... I got the burn message. It turned out it was too much for the Instant Pot to handle this amount of food at once.
Make sure you don't overfill the pressure cooker and that the liquid and the ingredients do not exceed the MAX PC – ⅔ line on the Pot.
Make sure you add more water if you are adding more food.
The Saute Function
All Instant Pot devices have a Saute function, and I have to tell you, it’s amazing! You can brown meat before creating the sauce, you can make crunchy vegetables, and you can make caramel onion in just a few minutes.
However, once you are done with sauteing, you must clean the inner pot to perfection (or deglaze it). Otherwise, any flavorful small bits left behind may trigger the Burned message during the next pressure cooking session.
Keep in mind that the brown bits left behind from sauteeing are not burnt and shouldn’t be discarded. In fact, you can easily remove them by pouring some liquid in the pot and scrubbing the bottom with a wooden spoon. I strongly recommend adding them to the dish - the results will be amazing!
In order for the pot to build pressure, the lid must be properly sealed. So, if the silicone sealing ring is not fitted in place or is damaged, steam could escape from there. The same can happen if the lid is not placed correctly or if there is too much liquid in the pot.
So, if steam starts leaking out, the pot will detect a problem and will throw an error message while also stopping the heating process.
I already mentioned the cleaning of the inner pot after sauteeing, but other elements need a bit more attention as well. For instance, you must check the heating element at the base to make sure it is clean (it may need a wipe from time to time). In addition, it’s important to make sure that food debris or foam (usually from starchy foods) didn’t reach the steam valve, blocking it from functioning properly.
Your Instant Pot model
There are some Instant Pot models that consistently show the burn notification while others don't. The newer models tend to be more sensitive regarding the burn message.
Does Instant Pot Still Cook on Burn?
Yes, the Instant Pot will still work after displaying the Burn message.
What to do when you get a burn message on Instant Pot?
In some cases, it’s enough to just let the pot be for a few minutes. If it cools down, it may re-start on its own and continue the process where it’s left off.
If this doesn’t happen, here’s what to do:
- Turn the pot off & quick-release the steam (do not force-open the lid!). If the pot was not under pressure, the lid can be removed without releasing the steam.
- Inspect the bottom of the pot and make sure there is no food stuck to it. If there is, scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. If the burnt area is large, remove the food from the pot, clean it, and re-start the cooking process.
- Inspect the sealing ring, steam release valve, and heating element underneath the inner pot.
- Check the level of thin liquid in the pot and adjust it if necessary.
- If everything checks out, close the lid, set the vent in the Sealing position, and restart the cooking process.
If the error message keeps showing up even after you’ve done all these several times, then it is the time to call for a specialist.
How Do I Stop My Instant Pot From Burning?
It’s rather simple. If the pot doesn’t have any defects (which may cause an error message even when everything is perfectly in order with the elements I mentioned above) then you just have to follow the specifications.
It also helps if you only work with tested recipes and follow the ingredients and temperatures exactly. When you experiment, things can go a bit wild.
Lastly, if you usually cook with starchy foods (pasta, rice, tomatoes, and more), put them last in the pot (so they are at the top) and don’t stir them in. This way, they will cook without reaching the bottom of the inner pot and stick to it.
Can An Instant Pot Explode?
All pressure cookers run the risk of exploding. However, this only happens in conditions of gross negligence or heavily damaged products. Even more, the Instant Pot comes with all those safety mechanisms to reduce the risk of explosion to the extreme minimum.
If you follow the producer’s specifications and always make sure all the elements that support the pot are clean and in good shape, then there’s nothing to worry about.
I have been heavily using my Instant Pot for several years and I never had an incident of this magnitude. Sure, the Burned message popped up a few times, but this gave me the knowledge and experience I’ve shared with you today. So, all mildly annoying things can have a good outcome if you’re looking close enough!
Overall, the Instant Pot is a safe and easy-to-use modern pressure cooker and I stand by it.